Despite Libya Spillover, Tunisia’s Biggest Security Threats Are at Home

Despite Libya Spillover, Tunisia’s Biggest Security Threats Are at Home
Tunisian police officers search for attackers still at large, Ben Guerdane, Tunisia, March 8, 2016 (AP photo by Feres Najar).

Clashes erupted in the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdane on Monday when Islamist fighters attacked military and police posts. Scores were killed, including seven civilians, 13 security officers and 46 militants. Many observers have characterized the assault, which occurred just 20 miles from the Libyan border, as the latest example of the Libyan conflict’s dangerous spillover across a porous border. But the attack also reveals that, even as the self-proclaimed Islamic State gains ground in Libya, the most significant threat to Tunisia’s security resides within its borders.

That’s because the militants, who claimed to be taking over the town as “liberators,” had local accents, according to residents, compounding fears over unidentified domestic sleeper cells that have escalated over the past year. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi attributed the “unprecedented” attack to the Islamic State, though the group has yet to claim responsibility.

After the attack, violence continued around Ben Guerdane throughout the week. On Wednesday, further clashes between Tunisian security forces and militants in the area, including a raid on a jihadi safe house, killed 10 militants. A manhunt for other jihadis is underway in the surrounding region, where a curfew has been imposed.

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